Not too long ago, Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche told us that the arrival of self-driving vehicles was “imminent.” He may have been hinting at the new, fifth-generation 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which is scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. next spring and will be stuffed with the latest safety and autonomous features, because even though a human pilot is still required to operate it, the car is a whole lot smarter than what we’ve seen in the past.

Merc likes to call it “real life safety,” and says the tech will bring its lineup of luxury vehicles just a little closer to that utopian vision of accident-free, fully autonomous driving. In the meantime, customers will benefit from higher standards of safety, less stress and greater comfort.

The new and updated systems make up what Mercedes has christened Intelligent Drive Next Level, and it includes stuff like collision detection and mitigation, follow assistance, and data logging.

Most notably, Mercedes is introducing a new parking assist that lets drivers use their smartphone to park their car.

It’s called Remote Parking Pilot, and here’s how it works: after downloading the compatible app and syncing it to the car, drivers simply stand within 10 feet of the vehicle and use the app to maneuver in and out of available parking spaces, both in perpendicular and parallel positions. This enables the driver to utilize much tighter spaces and eases mobility for those with disabilities.

You can check it out in action in the above-featured video.

Merc’s system differs from the one BMW just unveiled for the new 2016 BMW 7 Series in that the Bimmer is controllable from the display key while the Merc is controllable via an app on the owner’s smartphone.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why it matters

The up-and-coming E-Class will come stuffed to the brim with new technology, most of which will fall under the Driver Assistance Package. Included in this will be a new follow assist that can maintain a safe distance to the car ahead at speeds up to 124 mph, providing steering for corners and braking if necessary. There’s also speed limit assist, where outboard cameras and data in the nav system help to adjust the car’s velocity to posted speed limits.

Mercedes wants to emphasize that all these systems should be considered semi-autonomous, which means drivers won’t relinquish control completely, especially with regards to the follow assist, steering assist, and parking assist.


A car-to-x communication system will relay road conditions via SIM card to Daimler’s backend service, updating radio stations and traffic alert systems. Finally, in addition to providing a means for easier parking, owners can use their smartphones as digital keys by simply holding their phones close to the door handle to unlock it. Once the car identifies who will be driving, adjustments to the seat and door mirror positions will reflect customized presets.

Of course, there are plenty of new safety applications as well. These include automatic braking when an imminent collision is detected, evasive steering assist that senses when the driver is maneuvering to avoid something, and a series of air chambers in the seat side bolsters that rapidly inflate to move the driver and passenger away from the doors when an imminent side collision is detected.

Finally, there’s a system that emits a noise to trigger contraction of the stapedius muscle in the ear, protecting occupants from damaging their hearing in the event of a crash. No, really.

Mercedes wants to emphasize that all these systems should be considered semi-autonomous, which means drivers won’t relinquish control completely, especially with regards to the follow assist, steering assist, and parking assist. There are currently no details for pricing on the various system options, but it is expected that every one of them will be available to U.S. customers.

Furthermore, Michael Hafner, the director of advanced drive assistance and active safety for Mercedes, said that the system architecture is capable of integrating future upgrades, such as better sensors, cameras, and radar. 

It is believed the systems will also come with the new S-Class when it’s offered in the spring of 2017.

The systems should do well to reinforce Mercedes’ already well-established reputation for offering the latest and greatest gadgetry on its high-end luxury cars. The new E-Class in particular is a crucial model for Mercedes, as it not only leads the way for future technology in the lineup, but also represents a return to the company’s famous straight-six engine configuration.

The E-Class is Mercedes’ third best-selling model in the U.S. behind the C-Class and M-Class.

All told, this tech seems to blur the line between autonomous and driver-controlled functionality. As we press toward that “imminent” future of fully autonomous vehicles, it’s stuff like self-steering follow assist, automatic braking, and parking assist that will bridge the gap.

These systems basically allow awful drivers to continue being awful.


And that’s what it’s going to take to be seen as cutting edge these days. Anyone spending a decent chunk of change (that is, $60,000+) has come to expect all kinds of self-driving technologies as standard. 

Undoubtedly, these things will in fact make the roads safer, more convenient and more comfortable. However, they don’t come without their drawbacks. 

First, while human error is ever-present, machine malfunction can be equally as likely. Acura, for example, just issued a recall for nearly 50,000 MDX and RLX models over issues concerning the automatic braking system, which could unexpectedly trigger, potentially causing a rear-end collision. A similar issue popped up with the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. As automakers rush to get their version of the technology out the door, you can bet mistakes will be made.

Second, there’s something to be said about gradually taking the human element out of driving rather than immediately making the leap to full autonomy. What happens when a driver with no experience driving a 100 percent manual vehicle is required to do stuff like parallel park on his own or maintain a safe distance to the car ahead on the freeway? These systems basically allow awful drivers to continue being awful.

With that said, I still think these techs are, on balance, not just beneficial, but necessary. It’s all just points on the graph towards that sci-fi near future of robot-driven everything. If you don’t like it, well, I hear the Amish are still taking converts.

2017 Mercedes E-Class

2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Exterior Spyshots
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You can check our speculative review here.

Source: Automotive News

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